It is great to see Danny McGrain’s face as a familiar sight around Celtic Park once again as the former Quality Street Kid, as part of Neil Lennon’s coaching team, puts the players through their paces before the games and at half-time.
One perhaps surprising place where the McGrain fizzog also features prominently is Scotland’s National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street, Edinburgh. In 1989 the Gallery commissioned the accomplished painter Humphrey Ocean to persuade Danny to strike a pose on the basis that he “was one of the great figures in the history of Scottish football.” The painting notes confirm that it was not only his achievements in the game but the incredible way in which he overcame serious injury as well as diabetes that merited the commission.
It remains one of the most striking works in the Gallery today, the painting of a kilted McGrain standing at the rear of his home guarded above and below by football boot studs forming ‘Celtic’ and ‘Scotland’, the two great sides of an unforgettable playing career.
Ocean had previously been acclaimed for paintings of Paul McCartney and poet Philip Larkin and captured the legendary Celtic captain just about his prime, before his famed beard turned snow-white. The painter with the unusual name had almost found fame earlier when he played bass in Ian Dury’s first band, Kilburn and the High Roads, who supported The Who but whose limited success led the front man to leave to create The Blockheads. Humphrey returned to his first love – art – while ’Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ and ’Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll’ hit the charts. It is not known whether, when artist and subject met, Danny Mac was able to regale Humphrey with details of his own assault on the pop charts. In 1996 a Glasgow band called Big Wednesday released a single called ’Sliding In Like McGrain’ although it didn’t do well enough to fulfil Danny’s promise to music journo Billy Sloan that he’d join the band for a single apperances if they ever made it on to Top of the Pops.
Not content with one work on its hallowed walls, Danny also features in a series of 12 paintings of Scottish footballers created by Mark I’anson in 2003 for the National Gallery, a rare double indeed. By this time the beard was two-tone in colour and the legs (thankfully) not on show but those distinctive McGrain features were as recognisable as ever. Combined, the two art works represent a unique and lasting tribute to one of Celtic’s greatest players and ambassadors in the corridors of one of Scotland’s leading art institutions.
Now we’re just waiting on the Neil Lennon portrait being commissioned by the national gallery. Don’t hold your breath . . .